Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.
If you’re the slightest bit interested in history, you’ve probably contemplated the idea of a “place in time.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it is one of the reasons time speeds by for older people but seems eternal for the young. Older folks have a perspective that youngsters don’t. They can relate to past events over varying lengths of existence and it’s this spanning of time through personal experience that makes time seem to fly.
In the words of the world’s first humanist geographer, “Place is a center of meaning constructed by experience.”
That geographer is the recently departed Yi-Fu Tuan, a man who escaped the Maoist takeover of China before becoming a preeminent professor of geography at a variety of American universities.
In more relatable terms than humanistic geography might allow, Tuan taught a principle that I often think of, especially when doing historical research.
The year 1981 seems like yesterday to me. I was finishing my first year teaching, I met my wife in May of that year and coached my first state championship team on Halloween Day. It was quite a year in my life, but in retrospect, 43 years have rolled on in the blink of an eye.
If you take the idea of a place in time, the 43 years that separate my wide-eyed youthful exuberance from my cynical, jaded view of the world, it is exactly the same amount of time separating 1981 from the dark days before the horror of World War II back in 1938.
It can be sobering to think in those terms.
The death camps, bombings, disease, and mindless fascist aggression seem like a long time ago, most likely because those events are, they’re just shy of a century in the past. But in the context of a place in time, they are simply the bookends of my experience.
Imagine a scale of time, with the balancing point set at 1981. Jump ahead 43 years and it’s the present, jump back the same distance, and penicillin, television, and electrical appliances are just beginning to appear.
Perhaps you’ve thought in those terms without realizing you were flirting with “a place in time.”
I think we all do it.
If you’ve been around the sun a few times or seen many moons as traditional Native Americans once measured time, it’s easy to find these balance points. Just pick an event from your past, then subtract that distance in time to an earlier era. It is an easy way to realize your mortality, and perhaps why some people avoid the practice.
Nostalgia with its rose-colored glasses view of the past is popular these days. Octogenarians (a fancy word for reaching 80 years) often lament the modern era, preferring to dream of the past as a much better time and place.
The 50s get the nod for the most slanted decade in popular memory since it was a time of abundance. But people quickly forget that polio still raged, discrimination was embedded in the fabric of society for minorities, and it was a time when women couldn’t own property, or even a bank account without their husbands or fathers signing for them.
When it comes to living in the past, the older generation’s view of young people dominates the idea that the present is a terrible time to be alive.
A quote describes this belief succinctly. “We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently inhabit bars and have no self-control.”
Many people agree wholeheartedly with this idea. In truth, they’ve agreed with it for a long time, a very long time.
This quote was written in glyphs on the walls of a tomb inside an Egyptian pyramid 6,000 years ago. The message is that the youth have learned nothing in the succeeding 300 generations since that long-dead sculptor chiseled those words on the tomb of a forgotten Egyptian.
The Greek philosopher Plato shared similar sentiments on the youth of his day 3600 years later.
“What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”
Now that’s a tipping point. Plato is closer to us in time than he was to the inscription made in the Egyptian stone. Six hundred years close to be exact.
Antiquity can be quite distant when you investigate it.
My grandfather was friends with one of Chief Washakie’s sons. Chief Washakie was born in 1797.
You can play the connection game infinitely, but suffice it to say, I knew my grandfather well and the legendary leader of the Eastern Shoshone Washakie was a connection through his son.
In other words, my connection is just one person away from a man born in the 18th century.
When thinking in the other direction I look at my granddaughters aged six, four, and 18 months and wonder what the world will be like for them in the not-so-distant future.
Look back a half-century in time and I was a high school junior, 17 years old with my entire life ahead of me and not a clue as to what it would hold.
I won’t be around in another half-century, but Jayne, Norah, and Morgan will all be in their early to mid-50s and hopefully have similar thoughts concerning their own place in time.
They may have a bit of the disdain we all have towards the generations that follow us, but maybe they’ll temper it with the realization that this contempt is eternally generational.
In one of my favorite songs, “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics there is this opening phrase that ties into the place in time concept perfectly.
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door
Yes, they do. We did, our parents and grandparents did and now our children do, as will their children’s children. But redemption awaits if we are strong enough to make it. The best lyrics of the song (in my opinion) soon follow.
So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It’s the bitterness that lasts
So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be okay
We have our place in time. If we don’t give up and don’t give in…that’s the message.